After we had our fifth child, my EC and I knew it was time to take the next big step in our lives. As active members of the LDS church, it could mean only one thing: A giant SUV. (Don't quote me, but I think it is still in the revised Handbook)
We are on our second now, and it has been a great vehicle. We have encountered very few problems, however, one of the problems was an on-again-of-again nuisance that lasted almost two years. We have "dual-zone climate control," which is a fancy way of saying that my EC and I can control our own air. We would be driving down the road, comfortable in our independent climates, when suddenly, a valve in the dashboard would switch, and the vents on my side of the car began doing their own thing. No matter what the temperature was -inside or outside- my vents would begin spewing the scalding Winds of Hades on my arms and legs. I could close the top vents, but not those on my feet. (It should be noted that whatever discomfort I felt, my EC felt more, because I mostly drive my truck.)
The air was ridiculously hot, and completely uncontrollable. We would turn it off and on, change the temperature, change the vents, etc. and occasionally we could regain control. But not always. Luckily, it didn't happen all the time, so we didn't do anything to permanently remedy the situation. (That's code for "Car repairs are expensive, and I'm cheap.")
We did have one more, last resort, sure-fire technique to turn off the Devil's Breath: We could turn off the ignition. This 'usually' required pulling over to a safe spot, turning the car off, and then, restarting it. Worked almost every time, and we would continue merrily on our way.
This past summer, during a particularly hot stretch, the vents were killing us. No matter how hot it was outside, the vents blew hotter. It was finally time to fix things, once and for all. We took it to the mechanic. It took a few hours, and a few hundred dollars.
It worked. And it works. No more winds of Hades on our feet. And to think we waited all that time.
Why I am telling you about an air vent? Because it is an example of a problem that we had that we just lived with. We would do what we could to minimize it, and sometimes we would even stop and find a short-term remedy. But we waited a long time to actually get the problem fixed. If not for the existence of a short-term remedy, we probably would have acted much sooner.
We all have stuff like that: A leaky tire, a full hard drive, high blood pressure. All can be resolved for the short-term: An fill-up with air, a few minutes throwing stuff away, a daily pill. All of these short term solutions make it so we don't have to actually do what is best for the long-term: Repair the leak, get a larger hard drive, lose some weight. I'm sure we can all think of several things in our homes or lives that fit this description.
Now you are probably wondering where I am going with this. Here is my best attempt at expressing my point clearly and concisely. (Which is not always my strong suit.)
When we are feeling pressure in life, sometimes we "vent" as a way to release some of that pressure. But, in my opinion, venting is merely an attempt at a short-term solution for a long-term problem.
Listen and you can hear the outcry:
"MMM! Venting is good for you! It helps relieve pressure."
"Sometimes you need a listening ear."
"Venting helps me cope!"
"MMM! You are being is so judgmental!"
"Venting is part of being human!"
Nah. I don't buy it. Here are a few points that steer me in that direction:
1) I don't believe that our emotions are beyond our control. Especially anger. I have blogged extensively about this - if you are curious, here is a link that will take you to six of those posts. (Here) If anger is avoidable, so is venting. "I just needed to vent" = "I can't control myself."
2) Neal A. Maxwell said, "Whereas the natural man vents his anger, the "Men and Women of Christ" are not easily provoked." (link) (I figure I could stop right here, but I will press on.)
3) Venting doesn't work. Scientist have done a bunch of research and have determined that venting about our problems only serves to increase the stress and anger that we are venting about. Here are a couple of links: (link, and link.)
Here's a quote from one of the researchers from Ohio State named Brad Bushman: "Venting is not an effective strategy for anyone trying to cope with daily stress. Research clearly shows that venting increases, rather than decreases stress because it keeps arousal levels high, aggressive thoughts active in memory, and angry feelings alive."
Simply put: Venting backfires.
4) Venting is patently unkind to the listener. "What? But that's what friends are for!" Sure, friends and family will do it because they love us, but we don't stop and think how we are burdening them.
I found a picture of the "Best Listener in the World"
The only thing worse than burdening your loved ones with your "venting" is to add the magical phrase,
"Promise me you won't tell anybody about this."
That's when you get this: Someone with a brand new burden, without the permission or power to do anything about it!
And now, an important distinction: At the Waters of Mormon, Alma taught that to qualify for baptism and to be called his people, we must be "willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light." (Mosiah 18:9) Yes, we are supposed to mourn with each other, support each other, and bear each other's burdens.
Is "venting" the same thing as sharing burdens?
I think there is a difference between sharing a burden with someone so that person may bear it with us, and help us, and venting just to release enough pressure so that we can return to the same routine. When we vent to a loved on with no intention of doing anything about it, we are merely spreading the misery. Which leads me to the last point...
5) The more we vent, the less likely we are to fix the actual problem. We have all known someone who needs to vent a lot. Or we have been that person. We need to vent, so we find a listening ear, and unload. Then we return to our normal life. A week, or a month or three passes, and we find that same kind person and unload all over again. Hopefully, that person doesn't have a tape recorder, because we are probably saying the exact same thing as the time before. We don't actually solve the problems. We just keep talking about them - and that gives us just enough comfort to avoid actually doing anything about them. (I'm sure many of you are nodding your heads because you have worked with people who do this.)
(Note: All venting does not happen in conversation - I think this applies to the written internet vent as well.)
What do we do when we are on the receiving end of a hot vent? Ah, that's tricky, because we do care, and we don't want to alienate. Usually. Here are a couple of ideas:
• Try and figure out where the vent is coming from. If it is an angry rant, put your hand up, and gently say, "I can tell you are mad, but I don't think I want to hear this." (Yikes!) Or, "I don't think you telling me about this is doing anything to actually help the situation."
• If the Spirit whispers to you that you should listen, listen. And try and discern what your role should be. (The Spirit probably won't get involved in gossip or angry rants, but might offer suggestions to how you can help - IF you have a stewardship over this person. Remember, you aren't entitled to receive revelation for just anybody - no matter how close they are to you.
• If they say "I'm going to tell you something, but you have to promise to keep it a secret," immediately stop them and say, "I don't know if I can make that promise. I don't want to find out that you need help, and then be committed to keeping it a secret." Or, "You know my EC and I don't keep secrets from each other. Are you sure you want to tell me?" (I think I'll follow up with a post about keeping confidences later.)
• If they are venting about someone you love, just stop them and say, "You know, I love that person, and it hurts me to hear you saying these things. Can we talk about something else?"
When on the receiving end, we need to think long term. How can we really help? Ultimately, the greatest thing we can do for someone who is carrying a heavy burden is not to justify them, or excuse them, or even give a place for them to vent. It is to direct them, and the conversation, towards the only real solution: The Savior.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest in your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11: 28-30)